COVID-19: Jailed Human Rights Defenders Must Be Released Immediately

COVID-19: Jailed Human Rights Defenders Must Be Released Immediately

8 April 2020


In light of the serious threat posed to prisoners by the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, FIDH and its undersigned member organisations recall governments' obligation to ensure the safety and health of detained individuals that are under their responsibility, and launch a campaign, #ForFreedom, to call for the release of all jailed human rights defenders (HRDs).

As the spread of COVID-19 poses an unprecedented threat, the need to release HRDs is more urgent than ever. Our rights and those who defend them must not become a casualty of this pandemic. FIDH and its undersigned member organisations are launching today a new global campaign #ForFreedom for the release of all HRDs detained worldwide. They should be freed and allowed to conduct their legitimate activities to defend the rights of individuals against injustice, discrimination, violence, and other forms of human rights violations.

"Hundreds of people all over the world are imprisoned not because they committed a crime, but because of their work to defend human rights. As legitimate actors of change, they should never have been detained in the first place," declared Alice Mogwe, FIDH President. "As COVID-19 continues its rapid spread across the globe, it is time for governments to put an end to this injustice and release those who fight to uphold human rights," she added.

As stated by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, "Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views." This concerns minors, migrants, refugees, political opponents, journalists, and HRDs.

The campaign website profiles imprisoned HRDs, including Loujain Al-Hathloul (Saudi Arabia); Azimjan Askarov (Kyrgyzstan); Sevda Özbingöl Çelik and Hasan Ceylan (Turkey); Yuri Dmitriev (Russia); Leila de Lima (Philippines); Pablo Lopez Alavez (Mexico); Khalil Maatouk (Syria); Narges Mohammadi (Iran); Miyan Abdul Qayoom (India); Nabeel Rajab (Bahrain); Germain Rukuki (Burundi); Patrick Zaki (Egypt). The website will be regularly updated with additional arbitrarily detained HRDs.

The urgency of the current health crisis presents authorities with an opportunity to redress the unjust deprivation of liberty of all these individuals, many of whom are incarcerated in deplorable sanitary conditions and are denied adequate health care.

In such a context, FIDH and its undersigned member organisations more generally call on governments to relieve congestion in prisons by releasing vast numbers of prisoners on a temporary, permanent or conditional basis for public health reasons. Along with human rights defenders, priority should be given to the elderly, children, those with health conditions, prisoners of conscience, prisoners detained for expressing their opinions, administrative detainees, prisoners detained for minor or non-violent offences, untried detainees, and individuals held in immigration detention centres.

In times of crisis, governments have an obligation to protect those who are most vulnerable. Prison populations, confined to detention facilities that can easily become virus hotspots, are among those most vulnerable to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a particular risk in countries where minimum standards for detention conditions are not met, overcrowding is the norm, and social distancing is impossible to achieve. The spread of the virus in places of detention will be inevitable unless urgent measures are taken to mitigate this risk. Otherwise, incarceration could be equivalent to a death sentence for many detainees who contract, or are at risk of contracting, the COVID-19 virus.

Such measures would be consistent with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (revised and adopted as the "Nelson Mandela Rules"), which detail measures aimed at ensuring adequate personal hygiene, health, and safety of prisoners, as well as the specific advice issued by the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture.

We welcome the move by a number of countries, including Turkey, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Senegal and Bahrain, to begin releasing prisoners in an effort to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of the virus. We urge these and other countries to include HRDs among those who should be released immediately. Many countries have excluded prisoners convicted of terrorism-related offences from the release, thus penalising HRDs unjustly criminalised on trumped-up terrorism charges. HRDs should be exempt from such blanket disqualifications as their human rights work must not be conflated with terrorism.


  1. Botswana: Ditshwanelo
  2. Burundi: ITEKA
  3. Cameroon: Maison des Droits de l'Homme du Cameroun
  4. Djibouti: LDDH Djibouti
  5. Ethiopia: Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
  6. Mauritania: Association Mauritanienne des Droits de l'Homme (AMDH)
  7. DRC: Groupe LOTUS
  8. DRC: Ligue des Électeurs
  9. Rwanda: Association Rwandaise pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme et des Libertés Publiques, ADL
  10. Senegal: RADDHO
  11. Tanzania: Legal and Human Rights Centre


  1. Argentina: Comité de Acción Jurídica (CAJ)
  2. Argentina: CAJ
  3. Brazil: Justica Global
  4. Brazil: Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos - MNDH Brasil
  5. Chile: Observatorio Ciudadano
  6. Colombia: CAJAR
  7. Ecuador: Acción Ecológica
  8. El Salvador: Comisión de Derechos Humanos de El Salvador (CDHES)
  9. Honduras: CIPRODEH
  10. Honduras: COFADEH
  11. Mexico: Limeddh
  12. Mexico: IDHEAS
  13. Nicaragua: CENIDH
  14. Peru: APRODEH
  15. Peru: Perú Equidad (Centro de Políticas Públicas y Derechos Humanos)


  1. Bangladesh: Odhikar
  2. Cambodia: Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
  3. China: Human Rights in China (HRIC)
  4. India: Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)
  5. Indonesia: Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS)
  6. Iran: League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
  7. Iran: Justice for Iran (JFI)
  8. Laos: Lao Movement for Human Rights (LMHR)
  9. Malaysia: Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
  10. Maldives: Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
  11. Myanmar: Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma)
  12. Myanmar: Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA)
  13. Pakistan: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
  14. Taiwan: Covenants Watch
  15. Thailand: Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw)
  16. Thailand: Manushya Foundation
  17. Thailand: Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)
  18. Vietnam: Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)

 Eastern Europe and Central Asia

  1. Armenia: CSI – Armenia
  2. Belarus: HRC Viasna
  3. Georgia: Human Rights Center
  4. Kazakhstan: International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
  5. Kyrgyzstan: Adilet (Kyrgyzstan)
  6. Kyrgyzstan: Bir Duino
  7. Kyrgyzstan: ILI Foundation
  8. Kyrgyzstan: Kylym Shamy
  9. Russia: ADC Memorial
  10. Russia: Citizen's Watch
  11. Russia: HRC Memorial
  12. Ukraine: Center for Civil Liberties

Middle East and North Africa

  1. Algeria: CFDA (Comité des familles de disparus en Algérie)
  2. Algeria: LADDH (Ligue Algérienne des Droits de l'Homme)
  3. Bahrain: BCHR (Bahrain Center for Human Rights)
  4. Gulf: GC4HR (Gulf Center for Human Rights)
  5. Lebanon: CLDH (Centre Libanais des Droits Humains)
  6. Morocco: AMDH (Association Marocaine des Droits de l'Homme)
  7. Morocco: OMDH (Organisation Marocaine des Droits de l'Homme)
  8. Palestine: PCHR (Palestinian Center for Human Rights)
  9. Saudi Arabia: ALQST
  10. Syria: SCM (Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression)
  11. Tunisia: LTDH (Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l'Homme)
  12. Tunisia: ATFD (Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates)
  13. Yemen: SAF (Sisters Arab Forum)

Western Europe

  1. Albania: Albanian Human Rights Group
  2. Belgium: Ligue des droits humains - Belgique
  3. Croatia: Civic Committee for Human Rights
  4. Finland: Finnish League for Human Rights,
  5. France: Association Européenne pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (AEDH)
  6. France: Ligue des Droits de l'Homme
  7. Germany: Internationale Liga fur Menschenrechte
  8. Hungary: Hungarian Helsinki Committee
  9. Lithuania: Lithuanian Human Rights Association
  10. Latvia : Latvian Human Rights Committee
  11. Portugal: Portuguese League for Human Rights - Civitas
  12. Romania: League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADO)
  13. Spain: Asociacion pro Derechos Humanos de Espana
  14. Spain: Federacion de Asociaciones de Defensa y Promocion de Derechos Humanos de Espana
  15. Turkey: Human Rights Association (IHD)
  16. Turkey: Human Rights Foundation of Turkey
  17. UK/Northern Ireland: Committee on the Administration of Justice

 Press contact:

Eva Canan (EN, ES, FR, AR): +33 6 58 05 91 57 | |